Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu kept his focus on stopping the Iranian nuclear threat Monday, at the opening of a session in which the Knesset is expected to deal with dramatic internal issues.
“Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons,” the prime minister declared, speaking at a ceremonial opening meeting of the Knesset’s winter session.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, President Shimon Peres and opposition leader Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) addressed the packed plenum as well.
“It would be a historic mistake to reduce pressure on Iran now, a moment before sanctions achieve their goal,” Netanyahu stated. “We need to remember that international pressure is what is bringing results inside Iran, bringing them to the negotiating table, and will bring them to concede.”
According to Netanyahu, weakening sanctions will not support moderate trends in Iran; rather, it will strengthen Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who will portray the change as a victory.
“Many in the world understand that an Iran with nuclear weapons is not only a danger for Israel,” he continued.
“Iran is developing intercontinental missiles that can hold nuclear warheads; they can reach anywhere in the Middle East, Europe, the US and other parts of the world.”
Edelstein also mentioned Iran in his speech, quoting from the Rudyard Kipling poem The Truce of the Bear and saying it is impossible to make peace with a bear – meaning Iran.
“The Iranian president prepared a honey trap,” Edelstein said. “For a moment, it looked like the entire West fell for the Iranian leader’s charms.”
Peres warned that “a nuclear Iran is a danger to the whole world and destabilizes the region.”
The world must judge Tehran’s actions and not its words, the president added.
Yacimovich, however, criticized Netanyahu for bringing doom and gloom to the Knesset.
“There is no doubt that we can defend ourselves [from a nuclear Iran] and that all options are on the table, but the world is more complex than that,” she said. “Why are you so apocalyptic? We survived Pharaoh, we survived 2,000 years in exile, the Inquisition, the Holocaust, we’ll survive this.”
The opposition leader called for Netanyahu to give Israelis hope.
“True, there is a chaotic element and there are dangers, but we need to create our own reality,” she stated.
Despite his focus on Iran, the prime minister did not ignore matters expected to be brought to a vote in the Knesset during the new session.
“We will increase governability, pass a law requiring a peace agreement to be brought to the people for a vote and make sure the burden of national service is shared more equally,” he said.
Netanyahu spoke enthusiastically of his plans to “cancel the periphery” and connect the country with improved roads and train routes.
Edelstein also brought up the “sensitive and controversial issues” ahead, saying they will “influence the entire future and image of Israeli society.”
However, he warned, MKs must behave themselves and not cheapen or disrespect the Knesset.
Peace talks were the final issue the prime minister brought up, saying he wants “real, stable peace, not an arrangement that will expire right after it’s signed, but peace based on security and mutual recognition.
“How can it be that while the Palestinians ask us to recognize their nation, they refuse to recognize the Jewish people’s right to a state in its homeland? What is so complicated in recognizing this historic fact?” Netanyahu asked, echoing his speech at Bar-Ilan University last week.
Peres said that Jews have a moral imperative to actively seek out peace and commended the government for negotiating with the Palestinians.
“Peace is not easy,” he stated. “I am not suggesting we take major risks, nor to miss an opportunity and inject skepticism and cynicism... Peace requires concessions that are painful and difficult.”
Peres called for the government to make every effort to clear obstacles in the way of peace.
The president also commended the negotiators for keeping out of the spotlight, thus allowing talks to work seriously toward a two-state solution.
Conversely, Yacimovich demanded that Netanyahu give updates on the peace process.
“If there is no progress toward a final-status agreement, are there softer alternatives on the table? When do you plan to bring results or interim results to the Knesset?” Yacimovich asked.
“Has a staff been formed to prepare for the implementation of a solution? Are you prepared for the alternatives if talks fail? “We don’t want to see a negative process like the disengagement. Are you having a dialogue with settlers about the ramifications of an agreement on them and their fate?”
Still, most of Yacimovich’s speech focused on planned layoffs at Teva Pharmaceutical Industries. She called the plans cannibalism and terrorism, and said a company that receives billions in tax benefits from the government and is not in danger of bankruptcy should not be allowed to fire hundreds of workers.
The Labor leader demanded that the government intervene to prevent the layoffs.